Monday, October 22, 2012

A Story By Any Other Means...

Hey y'all! I was just over on Twitter (when am I ever NOT on Twitter?) and the topic of The Walking Dead came up. Specifically, it was the discussion of whether the graphic novels or television show was better. Boy, isn't that the age old question... which is better: the book or the movie?

I'm sure LOADS of you will be all "Ohhh, Harry Potter books are WAY better than the movies." And the same probably goes for Lord of the Rings, and on... and on... and on.... but then I thought about WHY?

I've never been one of those purists, one who believes the movie should be like the book word for word, scene for scene. That kind of stuff just doesn't bother me unless they go WAY overboard and get COMPLETELY ridiculous *cough* True Blood. But even then, veering so far from the plot is not my issue with that show. Also, I enjoyed The Princess Diaries WAY better as the movies, but that's a WHOLE OTHER BLOG.

I realized that the thing about books vs movies vs graphic novels, and any other kind of storytelling is that each medium conveys the story in a different way. Not just in the obvious visual way or whatever. I mean that when you've got words on a page, it's the writer's job to paint a picture with nothing but the 26 letters of the alphabet (assuming you're using English of course). However, no matter how well they paint it, each reader's visual interpretation is going to come out differently. It's up to the reader to "see" the story. The writer has control over pacing and how the story reveals itself. With a novel, it's entirely up to the writer how to develop the characters, setting, and plot.

Graphic novels are similar, but there's less imagination involved on the reader's part because the pictures are drawn out for them. The visuals are there already, and the writer and illustrator need to work together in order to tell the story the way they want it to be told. There's still room for plot and character development, but now you've got the added medium of visual art to help convey emotion and conflict.

One step further and you've got films. This is where more people than just the storytellers get involved. There are budget concerns. Timelines. Visual FX. Release dates. Publicity tours. An actor might be PERFECT for a character, but may not be available when filming needs to take place, so someone not quite as perfect might be cast for the role instead. This is where so many outside influences affect the outcome. It's less about telling the story, more about the visuals, and even more depressingly, about the box office numbers.

In films, however, a good screenwriter and director will still be able to convey the heart of the book, keep with the pacing, and know which parts to include and which to change or leave out completely. I'm a HUGE Harry Potter fan, but I appreciate the books and the movies as two separate ways of telling a story. The message is still there. The characters don't change because one scene takes place in a boat house rather than the Shrieking Shack (yep, you know which one I mean). ALL THE FEELS are still there!

Then you've got TV, which heaps up everything I said about films and then adds even MORE restraints. Because television is filmed week-to-week over a period of months and then years, there's even more to factor in. Will the show be renewed for another season? If it is, how do we plan out the next part of the story? How do we add enough to the characters to make them interesting, but not bore the audience over X amount of episodes? Where can we cut the episode off to keep people coming back for next week's installment? What if real-life things interfere with show things, i.e. pregnancy, previous contracts, publicity tours, an unexpected drug-overdose (God forbid). The time that passes in real-life is not the same time that passes in the imaginary world of the show. By necessity, the story must be twisted and adapted to actual events. Real-life has serious consequences on the storytelling.

When it comes down to it, there's no right way to tell a story, and there's certainly not ONE way to tell a story. It all depends on what the best way to tell YOUR story is. How do you want things to develop? How do you want to reveal your characters? What about pacing and structure? What's the best way to present your work to your audience?

I know there has to have been a time when you felt a story worked well in one medium, and not so well in another. I'd love to hear about it, and more importantly what made you feel like one way worked better than the other... *sits back, puts feet up, and sips on some iced tea*

7 comments:

Sarah said...

Well said, Sarah! The way a story is told in a book isn't always the most effective way to tell it through a film or tv show. And adapting things to address that isn't always a bad thing.

I often prefer books to their movie or tv counterparts but not always. The tv show Midsommer Murders comes to mind as an example of me preferring the tv version to the book version. I found the characters in the books annoying and unlikeable whereas they were portrayed somewhat differently on screen and, for me, that was a good thing. Also, like you, I can appreciate the different versions of some stories... like Harry Potter. Love both the books and the movies! :-)

AG said...

Truth. Thanks for the insight, Sarey!

Sarah L. Blair said...

Yes! That's exactly how I felt about The Princess Diaries! I felt like Mia was kind of snobby in the books and Grandmére was really mean. But I looove their film personas. Sure, Disney cheesed up things a little, but I think it worked for the better in that case.

Sarah L. Blair said...

Thanks for the inspiration!

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